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Residents protest changes to Park and Ride lot

December 5, 2018
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Residents of San Carlos Island met at the Park and Ride lot on Main Street and San Carlos Boulevard last week to tie yellow ribbons around the trees in protest of Lee County's proposed changes to the parking lot.

The county has been planning to store its trams in the lot during the upcoming season, and officials say they cannot be stored on Estero Island as they were last season because they have now acquired a third tram.

The county has proposed cutting the 61-space parking lot down to an estimated 30-40 spaces, and removing two palm trees and one diseased oak.

The county says it will replant the trees and all of the changes are temporary.

Some residents are not satisfied.

They say officials have not done enough to be transparent and work with the community.

"When we write to these people and ask what they're doing or why, they just ignore us, or don't answer," said resident Nick White. "We have to go dig for it."

Planned changes to the lot were discovered when a neighbor saw surveyors in the parking lot and alerted Joanne Semmer of the San Carlos Island Redevelopment Corporation, who investigated the matter.

Semmer spoke out against the changes to the lot during public comment at the Lee County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Nov 20.

She said the lot needs all the spaces available for San Carlos Island businesses and the nearby Coast Guard Station on Fort Myers Beach.

"They're going to take full-growth trees that have weathered Hurricane Charley and Hurricane Irma, and take them out for parking," said Semmer.

"We don't believe that they should be parking those trolleys on San Carlos Island when they only benefit Estero Island."

Semmer said the move goes against the Lee County Land Development Code, the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, and the San Carlos Island Plan, which states that the island should not become "a parking lot for Fort Myers Beach nor for Lee County."

"In 1990, the San Carlos Island community worked with Lee County engineer Joe Beard to design that parking lot to save the trees. And now the current staff is working against the community," Semmer said.

County officials maintain that they are actively seeking an alternative place to store their trams, but until then, it is necessary to keep them in the Main Street lot.

Semmer suggested that the trams can be stored one mile away at the Park and Ride facility on Pine Ridge Road instead, or on county-owned property at Seafarer's Mall.

Beach Mayor Tracey Gore has reached out to Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker and offered to help find a suitable alternative for storage on Estero Island, but reminded residents at the Dec. 3 town council meeting that "we have no jurisdiction on that side of the bridge."

Ridership on the trams is popular during the busiest time of year.

In the last tourist season, LeeTran's beach trams transported 118,604 riders from February through May.

A bus stop was previously moved from the lot to the front of Fantasy's on nearby San Carlos Boulevard but it was moved back to a location near the parking lot last Wednesday.

Plans for the lot are still in the works and there is no timeline on the proposed changes yet.



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